Revealed: Wigan Council's most bizarre requests for information

Wigan town hall
Wigan town hall

Interested in the cost of exorcisms signed off by your town hall, or the number of licences issued for wild boar owners?

If the answer is yes, then you’re not alone.

Both are genuine requests sent to Wigan Council under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws.

Other queries fielded by officers at Wigan town hall recently include how many trips were permitted for officers to visit Russia during the World Cup.

The answer is zero to all three, the town hall is keen to highlight.

One resident also requested information on who “owns” the local authority.

The details of the requests have been released by bosses as although the motives behind them may be genuine, each one takes up officer time as public authorities are legally obliged to provide an answer where possible.

Wigan has received 1,518 FOIs in 2018, working out at almost six per working day.

In 2014 the council also received a request about what plans are in place to protect the town from a dragon attack, which was highlighted by the Local Government Association as one of the most bizarre requests of the year.

Brendan Whitworth, assistant director for legal, said: “We are committed to being open and transparent about how we work, our decision-making process and the services we provide.

“We treat all requests with the seriousness they deserve however they can take up a lot of time to process and each FOI costs us money.

“There is a whole host of open data freely available on our website which the public can access if they have a question about the council.”

The query about exorcisms was submitted at the end of 2016 and asked: “How much money has been paid to exorcists over the past 12 months for properties owned or operated by your organisation?”

And the requests about who “owns” the council, licences issued under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act in order to keep wild boar and the World Cup trips were all from 2018.

The government first published proposals for freedom of information in 1997. In the white paper Your Right to Know, the Government explained that the aim was a more open government based on mutual trust.

The 2000 act provides access to information held by public authorities, both by obliging them to publish certain information about their activities; and entitling members of the public to request information from them.

It has allowed authorities to be held to account on many occasions but there have also been complaints that the system has been abused with public authority staff’s precious time wasted by stupid requests.